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Difficulties plague contact tracing around state as cases rise

Published: Jul. 1, 2020 at 8:12 PM CDT
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WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) - As COVID-19 cases in rural Wisconsin rise—one problem is coming to the forefront. While many are cooperating with contact tracing—for some, it’s not so simple.

A couple problems are arising for tracers around our area and the state: Some people don’t want to respond to contact tracers, while others are difficult to reach because of poor cell service or wrong numbers.

“Contact tracing is really important if we’re going to try to slow the spread of the disease,” Stephanie Smiley noted, with the Wisconsin Department of Health Services’ Division of Public Health.

In central Wisconsin’s most populous counties of Portage and Marathon, COVID-19 cases continue to rise.

“The individuals that have been difficult to get a hold of, there are a number of reasons behind that,” noted Ray Przybelski, Portage County Health and Human Services Director in a media briefing on Wednesday. Some people have been difficult to reach in contact tracing because of living in rural areas with bad phone service—while for a few, law enforcement has needed to step in.

“20-year-olds at times can be somewhat defiant,” said Gary Garske, Portage County health officer. “That’s been in some instances where we’ve got law enforcement involved, to put our hand down a little bit harder to say ‘We’re very serious about this, that you need to follow isolation orders as they are prescribed.‘ And once we’ve made that presence known, they comply.”

Difficulty in complying has also been cited as a problem in Marathon County. And across the state—the DHS says contact tracing continues to experience some difficulty.

“[Some] people are feeling that they may not want to answer the phone of somebody that’s calling them with an unknown number,” Smiley noted. In those cases, contact tracers leave voicemails and hope for a call back.

A reminder: contact tracing is simply the practice of health department employees tracing the people that a positive COVID-19 case has been in contact with to ask them to self-quarantine to stop the spread of the disease.

“So, really wanting to encourage people to be active participants in stopping the spread,” Smiley noted.

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